The Employer’s Guide to Internships, Part Two

This is the second half of a two-part series about what you, as the employer, can do to ensure a positive experience when hosting an intern in your workplace. This article will focus on tips for managing  your intern and dealing with the inevitable bumps in the road. See part one to find out what you can do to prepare for your intern before they even start working, and to read more about my credentials in this subject area.  I will provide tips for employers and illustrate each one with a personal example of how I’ve applied my own advice to my work managing Pegasus Creative at Oglethorpe University.

Once your intern starts working:

#5: Give and receive feedbackPegasus midterm questionnaire

Providing opportunities throughout the semester to provide structured feedback and asking your intern to reciprocate can be a very beneficial exercise for both parties. It allows for you to assess what the student is doing right, and where they could improve. Many samples of intern evaluations can be found online, and usually offer a point system for rating students in areas such as teachability, reliability and initiative. Asking the student to answer several questions about their experience thus far gives them the opportunity to voice any concerns they might have. Be as honest as possible and encourage your intern to do the same. Halfway through the semester is the perfect time to re-evaluate and make adjustments to the position or assignments so no one becomes disgruntled. Completing an end-of-term evaluation also provides closure for you and the student.

My lesson learned: After a few semesters of running Pegasus I found an intern performance evaluation online and modified it to fit my needs, then created a mid-term and end-of-term questionnaire for my interns to complete. I meet with each student privately twice per semester to discuss these documents. My interns have always been terrified of these meetings, but usually leave happy to have gotten some helpful advice and knowing that their voice was heard.

#6: Let them be a sponge

Remember that students complete internships in order to learn something. They are like sponges. Give them as much as they can soak up.

  • Invite your intern to sit in on meetings, even if it’s not a project he is directly involved in. Just seeing how you conduct business and communicate with other professionals can provide a helpful peek at the practical side of working in a workplace such as yours. You can simply allow him to be a fly on the wall, or ask for his input – you may end up being surprised at what he has to offer.

    Spongebob in a boat

    Spongebob does a great job ob soaking it up.

  • Provide him with access to free online webinars accessed through your professional organizations. I am a member of CASE and PRSA, both of which offer this type of professional enrichment regularly. These resoures can also be a good fall back for keeping your intern busy during down time in between projects.
  • Look for local conferences geared toward colleges students and consider assisting them with the registration fees. This is going above and beyond what an internship supervisor would normally provide a student, but at the very least, you could pass on information you come across about these types of opportunities, which your intern may not be aware of.

My lesson learned: Each semester the interns in Pegasus Creative are required to attend a field study, and several opportunities are offered. We attend the Modern Media Conference at Georgia State University every fall, and the Real World PR conference, sponsored by PRSA Georgia every spring. Both have proven to be excellent learning experiences for the students and they come back full of ideas they want to implement. Several students have written blog articles about their experiences at these conferences, one of whom learned to embrace her differences from her peers and tell her own story.

#7: Allow for cross training

This might not apply to all workplaces, but if yours includes professionals with varying specialties or interests, consider allowing your intern to shadow a few different people. Being exposed to all of the working parts in your business can help him see the big picture better than if he spent his time with a narrow focus. Who says a PR intern can’t learn some basic HTML, or a web development intern sit in on a marketing strategy conference call? If they show an interest and you can provide these opportunities, you may be surprised at how your intern’s work (or work ethic) changes once he understands the complexity of your industry.

My lesson learned: At Pegasus Creative, all students have a job title and specific responsibilities, but they are encouraged to work together and speak up if a co-worker is working on a project in which they would like to be involved. The three staff in the University Communications department at Oglethorpe University where I work are responsible for everything from Word Press web development to media relations and the university’s magazine, so there are a lot of these types of opportunities.

#8: Be prepared to reevaluate and reorganize

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, and it’s clear that the internship cannot continue without major adjustment. This should not happen if you’ve followed the planning and hiring tips in the first part of this series, but if it does, you have three options:

Don't fire your intern - or set them on fire either.

Don’t fire your intern – or set them on fire either.

  1. Fire the intern or allow them to quit. Don’t do this! In most cases, the student has to pay tuition to receive internship credit, which will not be refunded after a few weeks into the semester. Additionally, they will receive an ‘F’ on their transcript, since internships are usually graded on a pass/fail basis.
  2. Continue allowing the student to work in your office even though neither party is gaining anything from the experience (also a bad idea).
  3. Take a step back and think critically about what needs to change in order to make the relationship work. There was a reason you wanted an intern, and chose the candidate that you did. What went wrong, and what can be done to make it right? Think about the problem you are trying to solve by hiring an intern and if there is a different way for you to solve it.

The last option might take the most effort on the employer’s part, but try to see the issues you’re dealing with as a learning experience. If you can salvage the relationship and make it work, it will end up being a very satisfying experience for you and the student.

My lesson learned: I had a student who was hired for a position that required a significant amount of sitting behind a computer doing an important, but tedious task. It wasn’t until a few weeks into the semester that it was clear this type of job didn’t fit his personality. He was a boisterous people-person with a great sense of humor. He admitted that he wasn’t putting forth 100% effort because he deeply disliked his assignments. My coworkers and I thought about what we could do differently and decided that our goals could be reached by having him create a weekly video series. He enjoyed it, he was good at it, and the videos became very popular. The tedious task was split among several students and everyone was happy.

The end?

If you’ve made it through both of the articles in this series, first, thank you! I’m glad I held your attention and I hope my advice has been helpful. Please feel free to contact me through the form on my homepage if you have any questions about anything I’ve discussed. Bringing an intern into your workplace can boost productivity, inject some enthusiasm and create lasting relationships with future business leaders, If you do your homework first. With some strategic planning and a little extra effort, you’ll find the experience of supervising an intern satisfying both personally, and professionally.

Images Spongebob by Pirate Johnny,  and on fire by dcgreer, CC 2.0

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